In Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, we see the dilemma of a young man named Alex. Alex and his droogs live a violent life of stealing, raping, and ultra-violence. In the book, Alex is only fifteen but in Kubrick’s film Alex is a shade older. The book is about the effects of a controlling society on its citizens and the ramifications of cynical authorities.
Most would agree that Alex and his droogs are committing wrong and senseless acts; but what makes the novel so interesting is how the government tries to handle Alex and his behavior. This will be my primary focus in this article, I am choosing not look at particular acts in the book but rather the themes and theological implications in the novel. I believe that Alex is changed into a being that no longer can choose between good and evil. He has become a clockwork orange.
The authorities volunteer Alex to be a part of a new governmental experiment of reforming criminals. Alex is given the opportunity to take medications while viewing films that are saturated with violence and propaganda. We know that Alex has a love of classical music; the irony lies in that the authorities turn this music into something he hates. Alex is drugged and forced to watch film after film of violence and religious propaganda. The pain of watching these films becomes unbearable to Alex, thanks to the medication. Alex becomes an experiment and his brain becomes conditioned to certain behaviors. In other words, every time Alex feels the need to do something bad or evil, he feels a sharp pain in his brain, thanks to the films and medications.
This book opens up age old theological discussions that go back to the Garden of Eden. The question is whether or not God created man with free-will or whether we are limited by predestination. In the novel, Alex becomes a man who can no longer choose between good and evil. He has become conditioned only to choose or do good things. This of course means that man no longer has the power to choose. Man has turned into some sort of robot who cannot think for himself.
The irony and dark humor of the book is that Alex becomes the victim in the novel. After his failed suicide attempt, the blame is put on the authorities and the government. They have failed in there attempt to reform Alex. Alex says sarcastically, “I was cured alright”. The reader is faced with many questions while reading the book, such as the theological discussions mentioned earlier, and the question of governmental control and authority over the individual.
Can the government control its citizens at will? Will the individual become just another clone in the huge state machine? These existential questions also make the book a classic. The book is written in a Nadsat slang that brings to life the content of the book in a fascinating light.
The book was controversial when it came out in the 1960s, and Kubrick’s movie was banned in England for thirty years. Once you start reading A Clockwork Orange, you want be able to put it down and for good reason. “What’s it going to be then, eh?”